Pubdate: Sat, 22 Apr 2006
Source: Gadsden Times, The (AL)
Copyright: 2006 The New York Times Company
Author: Kate Zernike, New York Times
Note: The FDA Statement is at
Cited: The Institute of Medicine report
Cited: Drug Policy Alliance
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


A Food and Drug Administration statement on Thursday denying any 
medical benefits of marijuana reinforced the divide between federal 
officials and the states that have approved the drug's use to ease 
some medical conditions.

"It's consistent with the long-held federal view on this medicine, 
and that is that marijuana is the equivalent of heroin and cocaine," 
said Nathan Barankin, a spokesman for California's attorney general, 
Bill Lockyer. "California voters disagree."

State officials said the announcement would not affect their laws. 
But they and federal officials said it clarified the federal 
government's intention to continue enforcing its laws against 
marijuana, even in states that allow it for medical purposes.

"It's a very good statement so that people can clearly see what the 
policy of the United States government is," said Rogene Waite, a 
spokeswoman for the Drug Enforcement Administration.

While it has always been the drug enforcement agency's policy to 
enforce laws against marijuana, Ms. Waite said, "now it's clearly out 
there, so that people don't have to look everywhere to figure this out."

Several officials in the 11 states that allow medical marijuana 
disputed the F.D.A.'s contention that there was no research 
supporting the drug's medical use. They noted, in particular, a 1999 
review by the National Institute of Medicine, part of the National 
Academy of Sciences, the nation's most prestigious scientific 
advisory panel, which found marijuana to be "moderately well-suited" 
to some conditions, including wasting disease from AIDS and the 
nausea that often results from chemotherapy.

State officials said that most of their laws had been passed by 
citizen initiatives.

"The decision was made by the voters. It's not based on any 
conditions," said James M. Cameron, assistant attorney general in 
Maine, where the law allowing marijuana use under some conditions 
took effect in December 1999. "Really, there's nothing that's going 
to happen - any third parties judging whether these substances are 
effective - that is going to change Maine law."

But Mr. Cameron and other officials said they had warned people who 
used marijuana that they were protected under state law only, and 
could be prosecuted under federal laws.

"The Vermont attorney general's office had always been concerned 
about the message that the med marijuana program gave that it was 
legalizing it, when it remains illegal under federal law," said John 
Treadwell, an assistant attorney general in that office.

A United States Supreme Court decision last year affirmed the federal 
government's right to enforce those laws in those states.

State officials said they did not believe that the ruling would 
increase the number of federal prosecutions.

"There's sort of a detente," Mr. Barankin said, in California. "Both 
sides respect that we have laws that differ. Federal law enforcement 
agencies for the most part have shown some respect for California law 
by only going after those individuals who seem to be clearly not in 
the medical marijuana business for the medical part of it - which are 
the same people the state law is going after."

The Food and Drug Administration issued its announcement in response 
to calls from opponents of medical marijuana in Congress, and it was 
welcomed by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, 
which has long made marijuana its top priority.

Advocates of medical marijuana said the real impact would be in 
trying to pass new legislation in states like Connecticut, New Jersey 
and New Mexico.

"We're going to have members of state legislatures say, 'But even the 
F.D.A. has said there's no medical value,' " said Ethan Nadelmann, 
executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which works to loosen 
drug laws. "That's where it's going to hurt."

The Supreme Court decision killed efforts to allow medical marijuana 
in Connecticut, Mr. Nadelmann said, adding, "It had no legal impact, 
but it created a perception."

Others said the decision would continue to frustrate efforts to 
research the potential medical benefits of marijuana.

In Vermont, for example, a statute enacted several years ago called 
for a research program on the therapeutic effects of marijuana. When 
a legislative group asked more recently why that had not been 
conducted, the Vermont Health Department said it could not be done 
under federal law, Mr. Treadwell said. ' 
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